Side Effect of Grief: Love
There’s nothing to like death to define a family. That’s something I learned this weekend.
My grandpa died last Thursday. It wasn’t exactly a shock; he was 97 and his health has been deteriorating for the better part of two years. Even so, one minute he was there in my life and the next he was gone. Nothing really prepares you for that.
Nothing prepared me for seeing my brother cry at the visitation and funeral. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen my brother cry before that, but it startled me in a lot of different ways. Suddenly the person who could be compared to stone was a human, raw and vulnerable and hurting. And suddenly I was his sister, someone who could actually understand what was going on in his head.
And then there was my dad, who was surprisingly calm. I expected him to be angry and irrational, but I think maybe instead he was relieved. I can’t imagine what it must be like to watch your parent slowly die and forget all the people they loved…I guess at the end you’re just glad that wherever they are, at least they are no longer suffering. I think my dad is sad, but the weight of helplessness has been lifted off of him.
So I hugged my brother, and I hugged my dad. I cried in the moments I had alone, and then as “Taps” played when they gave my grandpa his military funeral. I was lucky I had people beside me who not only loved him, but loved me as I needed their support.
He wasn’t a perfect person, but he was a good one. He took me fishing when I was little, and told me that if I ate the crusts off of my sandwiches that they would make my hair curly. He hugged me and kissed my cheek and told me he loved me each time he saw me. He called me “Pooky Lou” sometimes and told me he’d dance with me at my wedding. And when I got older, he always asked me about my “boyfriend” (whether I had one or not) in that funny way grandparents do. He loved me very much, and was there loving me from the moment I was born until the day he died. Nothing will ever replace that kind of love, or quench the kind of sorrow you feel when it’s gone. But I’m so incredibly grateful I had it for as long as I did.
After an intense weekend of seeing out of town family, preparing for the funeral, and actually going through the process of accepting that he’s gone, I actually feel a bit better about my family. Death reminds us how important life is, and even though I don’t have a close family or necessarily a warm and fuzzy one, they are the people I’ll deal with for the rest of my life. They love me and I love them, and the rest is simply detail. Sometimes all you need to know about a person is if they will be there when you’re hurting. If they can do that, then they are worth keeping around.